Welcome back to another NCAA Shootaround. I’ve got a few games that I hope will be interesting for everyone: Oklahoma State vs. Kansas, Kentucky vs. Alabama, and Duke vs. Louisville. Once again these are just my views on these games, so take them with a grain of salt and feel free to let me know where you thought I was wrong. Also, if there is a big game that you particularly want in a given week feel free to let us know via Twitter.
Oklahoma State vs. Kansas
There are some teams where it only takes one look to identify their best player. Oklahoma State is not one of those teams. Phil Forte III has two qualities not typically seen in a Top 25 team’s best player…he’s short and white. I’m not trying to racially profile anybody, but come on you guys! We all know it’s true. However, Phil Forte III came into this game as the Big 12’s leading scorer. He shoots the ball well and utilizes a good shot fake and deceptive quickness to get himself to the free throw line, despite his stature. He’s likely too short to play in the NBA with his particular skill set, though.
Kansas, on the other hand, has no easily identifiable star player because they all look like star players. In a sense, this is true. The majority of the roster is immensely talented, highly recruited high school athletes. However, their construction is almost too similar to an AAU team to give me much confidence that this team is a legitimate title contender. Their team length and athleticism allows them to really excel when the game gets chaotic. However, I have doubts about their perimeter shooting and lack of a true shot-creating point guard. Once again though, their athleticism creates a large amount of opportunities at the free throw line, but they don’t convert often enough to turn it into a significant advantage.
Kentucky vs. Alabama
I was so full of hope for all of 45 seconds in this one. Levi Randolph deflected a pass at the top of the key and then took it the other way for an uncontested layup. What happened next? A 12-2 run from the Wildcats with the final sequence being a Randolph cinderblock followed by a lazy 2-3 zone rotation for an Andrew Harrison three (or maybe it was Aaron, but I think it was Andrew, but who cares?).
Settling for bad shots, turning the ball over, allowing good shooters ample open looks, failure to get back in transition, and not getting second chance opportunities all make it difficult to win a basketball game, but when you do all of them? It makes it impossible to win. Especially when you are playing the best team in the country. Alabama put up such a poor performance that Kentucky was able to put in their “white guy who wears a headband”. That white guy’s name is Sam Malone, by the way, yes as in the Cheers character played by Ted Danson. Alabama did go on a little run to open the second half and cut the lead to nine.
But then…inexplicable travel followed by unjustifiable off-ball offensive foul and the rout was on. Anytime you give me a reason to use “inexplicable” and “unjustifiable” in the same sentence you know you got beat badly. I don’t want to just crap on Alabama though. They are a decent team, probably a middle-seed NIT team, but they just didn’t have it on Saturday.
Duke vs. Louisville
Do you like 2-3 zones? Then you’d have loved this game. Both of these teams used the 2-3 as their base defense, although they did it a little differently. Louisville actually prefers to set up in a 2-2-1 full court trap out of made baskets and other dead balls, meanwhile Duke didn’t bring pressure and pretty much squatted in that 2-3 matchup zone. Of course, I’d imagine Duke doesn’t sit in that zone in all games, but Louisville never made them get out of it. There’s an old saying about being able to hit the broad side of a barn, but it would be more accurate to say that the Cards couldn’t have hit water if they fell out of a boat on Saturday.
Note: I tried to find a picture of Louisville missing a shot here, but the only thing that comes up when you google “Louisville Airball Gif” is a plethora of Kevin Ware breaking his leg gifs and none of us need to see that again.
If Louisville can’t improve their perimeter shooting, then they will lose to every decent team they play that can run a halfway effective zone. Montrezl (silent “L”) Harrell is a very good player, but he needs to be a banger not a jump shooter. He did a much better job of crashing the offensive glass and getting to the rim/free throw line in the second half. However, in the first half, he was content to hang around the top of the key and shoot the dreaded long two. Chris Jones and Terry Rozier are both good players but they struggled mightily shooting the ball. If your backcourt can’t force a team into a man defense then it makes it exceptionally difficult for the frontcourt to be successful. Wayne Blackshear might be one of the keys to this team going forward though. He is a lengthy wing who can shoot and guard the perimeter. Keeping him involved offensively is the key to forcing teams out of the zone.
Duke, on the other hand, rebounded nicely from the back-to-back losses to N.C. State and Miami. Jahlil Okafor is worth the watch. He is exceptionally efficient, and remained involved defensively in the first half despite very few offensive touches. He is going to earn a top 3 to 5 pick as long as he stays healthy, particularly with the current premium the NBA places on rim protection. While Okafor may be the best player, the key for the Blue Devils is going to be the play (particularly the shooting) of the guards. Quinn Cook, Matt Jones, and Tyus Jones are all very good players. Tyus Jones is the main ball handler and is extremely good in transition. Matt Jones is a good spot up, and Cook does a little of everything. All in all, Duke is a very solid basketball team, but their reliance on the three is going to result in an early March Madness exit if they get cold at the wrong time, whereas other more defensive and low-post oriented teams would be more apt to surviving an off day.